Most of the folks participating in the three-day workshop had cleared out by lunch time on Friday. As I was walking into the dining area, I noticed one of the participants sitting alone off to one side. After I made my selections from the catalog of dining options, I carried my tray over and asked if I could join him. He readily obliged.
Over the next half-hour or so, we had one of those serendipitous conversations that are so very rich and rewarding. You know, the kind that makes you contemplate that maybe it wasn’t just complete coincidence…
As we shared a bit about career paths—mine is about twenty years further up the road than his—John mentioned having made a job change after his young son was diagnosed as autistic. “C.J. needed someone to be home with him a few hours each day so I gave up an administrative job and took a teaching job,” he explained.
I was pretty impressed with that and I’m not all that easily impressed. Then he shared something that went even beyond that.
“Everyone was telling us that he would never be able to live independently, never be able to learn at a high level, never… They said we needed to accept that he would always require care, always be living with us.” He paused, then spoke again, softly, “But there was this one therapist who said, ‘I don’t agree with that; I think he is very capable of learning and doing a lot more.'”
And so the whole family took on CJ’s education; even his older sister Hanna played a vital role in helping develop his communication ability. With the therapist’s guidance, he learned the techniques that most of us just absorb naturally as part of growing up and interacting with others.
As a result of all of that faith, love, effort and determination, CJ not only finished high school but is now going to college… and majoring in physics.
“He wrote his own essay describing how his autism would actually give him an advantage over other students. He brought it to me and..” Here my new colleague seemed to choke up just a bit and I believed I could read more than a decade of gratitude and pride in his expression.
Many people deserve credit for that powerful moment and all that led to it: teachers, aides, counselors and of course, his family. But the success of this story began with one therapist who refused to choose the easier path of acceptance and chose instead the liberation of challenge and belief in someone else.
Those who give hope to others unlock more good than they can possibly imagine. Let’s never give up on that!